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Take Your Children to the Woods

A plea from your friendly neighborhood forest spirit

As I write this I am standing and leaning my shoulder against a tree. I tried to find a place to sit and write more comfortably, but (and I am somewhat ashamed to admit this) I would feel too guilty about resting on one of these fallen trees for fear of disrupting the lives of any insects which might reside there.
As so often happens when I embark on adventures into the woods, I started at a rather large paved trail. Today is Saturday, so unsurprisingly there was no shortage of other people along the way. However, there’s nothing I dread more than having to hold that little half-smile as I awkwardly cross paths with other people on their stroll, so in a dual attempt to avoid people and also go deeper into the wilderness, I branched off onto a smaller, wilder trail. Then I branched off again, and again, into increasingly smaller and wilder trails, until at last my tiny footpath ran out. Despite this, I pushed on, avoiding plants and ducking under spider’s webs, seeking an even deeper immersion in the woods.
Now, I am surrounded by nothing but nature and can write relatively confidently knowing the chances of someone following the same path as I am slim (I always get stage fright writing in front of other people). Nevertheless, despite my best intentions, I can still hear the voices of families exploring the trail systems around me.
These voices incite a feeling in me which I can only describe as bittersweet, except the bitter is replaced with anger. A tiny grin forms on my face as I try to stifle a scream.
I have seen more children and families on these trails than I have ever seen on others, which makes me utterly ecstatic. We are standing at a precipice formerly unknown to humankind. Our mindset about the environment has led to, and even justified, horrendous treatment of it. By allowing these children the chance to immerse themselves in nature and appreciate it on an intrinsic level, their families are changing the collective utilitarian mindset that humans have held about the environment for years.
We must bring children to places where they can appreciate nature for nature’s sake. But speaking personally, and knowing the comedic absurdity of this statement, I want everyone out. I want everyone to get the hell out of these woods.
There is hardly a more valuable experience in my opinion than solitude and communion with nature, and this requires absolute wilderness. I want to be able to walk in the woods and not hear the sound of a single another human.
John Muir, commonly called The Father of U. S. National Parks, once said, “Only by going alone, in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness.”
Well, John, riddle me this, how am I supposed to get to the heart of the wilderness if all these chatty kids are bouncing around!?
I know the irony of this desire. I know that I only became the tree-hugging, vegetarian, sustainable living wood spirit that I am now for the same reason that these kids are currently becoming wood spirits just like me and Old Uncle John: because they are being exposed to nature.
When I was growing up, my parents (though not explicitly trying) exposed me to countless experiences with the natural world. I specifically have fond memories of camping, where I discovered the peace that could be found in nature. I remember fishing with my dad and learning to interact with the natural world from a mindset of stewardship and cooperation rather than domination. I remember my mom, pointing out every animal and flower that she saw, making us take the time to admire each living thing and find beauty in it. I remember going to petting zoos and children’s farmsteads, where I was encouraged to explore the land, befriend the animals, and become a true citizen of the planet.
I didn’t learn to appreciate the mystical and celestial charm of the woods as an adult, I learned to appreciate it as a child. I wasn’t genetically predisposed to love the wilderness either, for every human has the innate capacity. What matters is that we’re exposed to it and that we learn to approach it from a place of respect and reverence.
So please, take your children to the woods. Take them to wild places and teach them respect for nature. This above all things is imperative, for if we don’t foster a mindset of valuing nature for nature’s sake, then future generations will be unwilling to take up the torch of environmentalism. Take your children to the woods.
Take them to the woods because I know that people like me aren’t a dying breed. I know the people who seek refuge in the wilderness and yearn for spiritual renewal in the vibrancy of the forests are not disappearing from this world. And they will never disappear from this world if we take our children to the woods. Take your children to the woods, and they will see that they’re well taken care of after we’re gone.
So for now, do everything you can. Advocate for sustainable practices, fight to reverse climate change, eat locally, cut down on plastic, and appreciate the life in your backyard, whether it be a literal backyard or a metaphorical one. And in the meantime, take your children to the woods. People like me will just have to deal with it.

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